Saturday, April 4, 2009

What is Programming?

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Contrary to popular belief, computers are not clever. Left to itself, a computer doesn’t do anything at all – it won’t show the time, or display what you type on the screen, let alone play a video game. The reason that computers are such useful tools, and give the appearance of cleverness, is that they follow instructions, very accurately, very repetitively, and very quickly. For example, when a computer displays a clock, it does so because it has instructions for how to draw every color and tick mark in the clock face, and every line in the clock’s rotating hands, onto the computer screen.

Programming is the act of giving instructions to a computer so that it knows how to perform an action. Fundamentally, these instructions are a series of numbers – to a computer, everything is numbers – in a kind of code where different numbers represent different instructions. The good news is that programmers don’t have to learn all these numbers (the ‘machine code’), because they can write their instructions in a more intuitive form, and then have the computer convert these instructions into machine code.

The intuitive or human-readable form of instructions is called a computer language. Like languages in the real world, there are dozens of computer languages. Some are for specialized tasks and others are more general-purpose. What all programming languages have in common is that they enable programmers to create instructions for a computer without having to learn the computer’s numeric machine code.

Author: Rich Tebb

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